North Carolina’s COVID-19 vaccination plan changed for a third time on Thursday, expanding current eligibility to include individuals 65 and older regardless of health status or living situation. But the change didn’t have an immediate effect in Columbus County, where vaccines are still hard to come by. Here are answers to some of the questions The News Reporter has received.
Is there anywhere in Columbus County for the general public to get a vaccine right away?
No. However, Columbus Regional Healthcare System plans to open its public vaccine administration within the next week directly to patients of Southeast Primary Care who are aged 65 and older, according to spokesperson Stephanie Miller. “We are starting with current patients due to the limited vaccine allocation from the state,” she said. “We have requested to increase this allocation, and, as more vaccines become available to us, we’d love to open it up to the public.”
The previous distribution plan, which the county health department was following prior to Thursday, called for individuals aged 75 and older, not 65, to receive vaccines. There were thousands of calls from this age group alone, causing the health department to stop taking appointments until Feb 1.
The health department is unsure if it will allow people aged 65 and older to schedule a vaccine appointment once it opens back up in February. “We don’t know concrete yet,” spokesperson Daniel Buck said on Friday. “We know the 75 and up crowd for sure.”
The health department is planning to release its decision about opening appointments to 65 and up before the end of the month, according to Buck.
Bladen County already decided that it would distribute the vaccine first to those aged 75 and older, then move to ages 65-74 in adherence to the state’s new plan, according to Director Teresa Duncan.
Should people who received the first dose worry about the availability of the second dose?
No. Buck, from the health department, noted that anyone who has gotten their first dose of the Moderna vaccine is guaranteed a second dose. “We technically have no management over our second dose,” Buck said, adding that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services holds the corresponding second dose after receiving a first dose report.
When can people under the age of 65 get a vaccine?
The new distribution plan has five main groups.
Group 1 is healthcare workers with in-person COVID-19 patient contact, along with staff and residents in long term care facilities. Columbus County has reached this group, with vaccine administration already at Columbus Regional Healthcare and nursing homes like Liberty Commons, Shoreland and Premier Living.
Group 2 is older adults, or anyone who is 65 years or older regardless of health status or living situation. The Columbus County Health Department has already started providing vaccinations to some people within this group, specifically to people 75 and older.
Whenever Columbus County is ready, it can move onto Group 3, which is frontline essential workers. These workers include first responders, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, teachers, school support staff and child care workers.
Next is Group 4, which has several components:
- anyone 16-64 years old with high-risk medical conditions that increase risk of severe disease from COVID-19, such as cancer, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), serious heart conditions, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes
- anyone who is incarcerated or living in other close group living settings who is not already vaccinated due to age, medical condition or job function
- essential workers not yet vaccinated within sectors such as transportation and logistics, water and wastewater, food service, shelter and housing, finance, information technology and communications, energy, legal, media, public safety and public health
Last, Group 5 is anyone else who wishes to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
Can Columbus County residents travel outside the county to get a vaccine?
North Carolinians do not have to get their COVID-19 vaccine in their county of residence, according to NCDHHS. “Vaccines are a federal resource, and, as we know, this virus does not recognize county or event state lines,” said spokesperson SarahLewis Peel.
On Thursday, Cohen announced the beginning of mass vaccination sites across the state. Columbus County is not one of the 23 counties participating.
“We haven’t done a huge, mass vaccination site yet, but that’s because we’re only getting enough [doses] to schedule for,” Buck said. “We don’t have extras.”
Buck added that the health department was taking measures to increase its capacity to vaccinate, such as hiring temporary workers, and was not opposed to asking NCDHHS for more help.
The current mass vaccination locations are:
- Bertie County Health Department in Windsor
- Buncombe County Health Department in Asheville
- Atrium Health in Concord
- Camden County Health Department in Camden
- UNC Health in Chapel Hill
- Chowan County Health Department in Edenton
- Currituck County Health Department in Currituck
- Duke Health in Durham
- Forsyth County Department of Public Health in Winston-Salem
- Gates County Health Department in Gates
- Henderson County Department of Public Health in Hendersonville
- Hertford County Health Department in Ahoskie
- UNC Health in Smithfield
- Madison County Health Department in Marshall
- Atrium Health in Charlotte
- UNC Health in Hillsborough
- Pasquotank County Health Department in Elizabeth City
- Perquimans County Health Department in Hertford
- Vidant Health in Greenville
- Duke Raleigh Hospital in Raleigh
How much does it cost to get a vaccine?
For whatever group or location, regardless of health insurance, all COVID-19 vaccines are free, according to NCDHHS.